We all love "best-of" lists, but what if people around the NFL created their own? To preview the 2022 NFL season, we surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman. This is the third edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up or dropped from last year's lists.
Here's how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, along with hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy -- even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple. Check out who makes the list at every position on ESPN+.
Top 10 edge rushers
Age ain't nothing but a sack total in the NFL pass-rushing market. Several edge rushers in their 30s are holding down spots on this list because their games hold up, despite young stars pushing for supremacy. While the speed positions -- corner and receiver, for example -- can lean youthful, older pass-rushers can stay productive because they have a plan, they're savvy and they can win when the game is on the line. Just look at Super Bowl LVI, where 11-year vet Von Miller turned up the heat on the Bengals to help secure a championship for the Rams.
It is youth, however, that dominates the very top of this list, including a pair of under-27 siblings jostling for position among the best edge rushers in the NFL. Let's look at some of the NFL's top game-wreckers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the league. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 defensive tackles
The discussion for any interior defensive line list naturally starts with No. 2. Aaron Donald takes his rightful place as the top defensive tackle and possibly the best player in all of football, then the rest of the field fills in behind him.
This year's group featured a reshuffled top five and two new players. Overall, the crop was slightly thinner than a year ago, when nearly 20 interior defensive linemen garnered serious consideration. The retirement of Pittsburgh's Stephon Tuitt (No. 8 last year), opened a spot. Let's look at some of the game's top interior pass-rushers and run-stoppers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 off-ball linebackers
Racking up tackles doesn't get a linebacker high on this list. What matters most to league execs, coaches, scouts and players when evaluating the NFL's top linebackers is how they affect game plans -- and how often they create turnovers.
Splash plays are paramount at the "stack" or off-ball linebacker position. That helps explain the top two in the voting: One is imperfect but elite at getting the ball back to his offense, the other is so good at sacking quarterbacks he might not even be an off-the-ball linebacker a year from now.
The position is lacking in undeniable stars. The depth of playmaking is strong, however, with more than 20 players garnering at least one vote. Plus, several 30-year-olds are still playing at a high level. Let's look at some of the game's top linebackers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 cornerbacks
Cornerback is less about what you have done and more about what you're able to do. Corners who can consistently handle man coverage will get paid a premium and rank higher on lists like this. Those who put up impressive coverage numbers in zone-heavy schemes will usually be knocked by NFL voters who prioritize scheme transcendence. And getting beat is overrated.
"All the good ones do," an NFC exec said. "I'd rather a guy play a ton of man, knowing he'll give up completions but he'll compete and make plays on the ball, than one who rarely gets tested and struggles when he does."
That notion became a central theme in the voting for the top-10 cornerback list. The top name here is a well-known playmaker, but the rest of the order is not. Let's look at some of the game's top corners as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 safeties
The safety position is looking up. Players are getting paid more, with the market rising from $15.25 million to $18.4 million per year over the calendar year, thanks to Minkah Fitzpatrick's four-year, $73.6 million deal with the Steelers.
That's because the job description is evolving. Safeties are asked to play the deep ball, play the run, cover running backs and tight ends, get the secondary organized, command a leadership role, manipulate the quarterback pre-snap, create the illusion of pressure at the line of scrimmage and get interceptions whenever possible.
These 10 players are the best at all of that, and the competition was steep -- 23 players earned votes, an abnormally high total for our top-10 process. Some are true ball-hawk center fielders, while others are more like linebackers in the way they work the line of scrimmage. And too many good players just missed the cut. Let's look at some of the game's top safeties as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 interior offensive linemen
This year's list of the NFL's top 10 interior offensive linemen doesn't leave much room for upward mobility at the top. Four of last year's top five stayed in that same range, leaving a collection of ascending young players and well-aging veterans fighting for a spot on the list. Center, in particular, proved to be one of the toughest positions in all of football to judge because there's little consensus about how the top three should be ordered. Let's look at some of the game's top interior blockers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 quarterbacks
The entrance fee into the top-tier quarterback club rises every year. Most positions have at least 15 players who garner top-10 votes over a sample of leaguewide personnel. Some even have 20. But for this year's list of top-10 quarterbacks, only 13 passers received more than one vote.
Over 32 teams, the depth at starting quarterback is considered thin. Many teams face big questions at the most important position. But the top 13 is a strong group -- and it makes for an incredibly competitive voting process. Let's look at some of the game's top QBs as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 running backs
Running backs continue to be great despite facing eight-man boxes, on and off the field.
Career length is getting shorter, even for quality players. Backs who made their NFL debuts in the 2010s -- and are now retired -- averaged 7.1 years of tenure, compared to at least nine years from the 1970s to the 2000s. The pay scale remains flat while salaries at other positions skyrocket. And in the draft, a running back hasn't been selected in the top 20 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 overall in 2018. Teams employ committee backfields with higher frequency than ever.
Yet their importance to an NFL offense remains paramount. The best at the position can be a workhorse back, a wideout and a wildly good blocker each Sunday. This year's top-10 list features many usual suspects but also three new faces -- including two rookies and a brilliant playmaker out of the AFC South. Let's look at some of the game's top ball carriers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 wide receivers
Condensing a loaded receiver landscape into a top-10 list is a near-impossible task. The explosion of 7-on-7 football at the youth levels has accelerated the growth of the position. From high school to college, pass-catchers enter the NFL ready to produce. Passing numbers are steadily rising in nearly every category.
Most teams have at least one impact receiver. Most NFL drafts have a dozen or more potentially elite receivers drafted in the first two rounds. Catching 100 passes is less anomaly and more an expectation for a top player. And complicating matters is the ascension of several players who either didn't make the cut last year or were too young to do so. Let's look at some of the game's top receivers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 tight ends
Tight ends in the NFL fall into two categories: the traditional ones, and wide receivers who are tight ends by title due to their size. Several players in this year's top 10 either have mild interest in blocking or aren't asked to do it as often as a traditional tight end would. That's largely because they are so good at beating coverages to get open. But it also leaves those who voted here in a precarious spot, choosing between throwback-style favorites and matchup tight ends who fit today's passing trends.
This debate spills into the top of the rankings for a third consecutive year. Let's look at some of the game's top tight ends as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »
Top 10 offensive tackles
Five of the top 10 offensive tackles are at least 30 years old. As one NFL senior national scout pointed out, young offensive tackles come into the league with less refinement and skill because colleges are playing considerably less pro-style offense.
But a few young stars are aiming to change that narrative. This year's rankings feature a pair of 23-year-old former Big Ten standouts who made major moves into the top tier. By next year, more should be joining them. Let's look at some of the game's top offensive tackles as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL. See our top 10 on ESPN+ »